Hamas announces creation of Cabinet


JERUSALEM -- Hamas announced yesterday that it had formed a Palestinian government but acknowledged that it had been unable to attract coalition partners whose presence might have made dealings with the Islamist group more palatable to the outside world.

The group refrained from formally announcing its Cabinet lineup, pending its presentation to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who was expected to travel to the Gaza Strip today for meetings with the Hamas leadership.

Hamas officials speaking on condition of anonymity said that key positions would go to Hamas loyalists, such as firebrand Mahmoud Zahar, who has been designated foreign minister.

Other senior appointees include lawmaker Said Siyam, who is considered a relative moderate, as interior minister, and economics professor Omar Abdel Razeq, who was jailed at the time of January's parliamentary elections, as finance minister.

"We respect [other] parties' decision not to join the Cabinet," Ismail Haniyeh, the Palestinian prime minister-designate, told a news conference in Gaza.

Israeli officials declined to comment on the prospective Cabinet lineup, saying they would wait until it was formalized. But one senior official scoffed at the notion that Israel would have dealings of any kind with Zahar, a hard-liner whom Israel has repeatedly tried to assassinate.

Since its upset victory in the Jan. 25 elections, Hamas had wrestled with the question of whether to form a government weighted toward outsiders in order to leave open the possibility of maintaining at least indirect contacts with Israel.

The idea of a broad-based government went by the wayside because militant elements within the group insisted that it must not back down from its stated goal of Israel's destruction.

That unyielding stance, along with unrelated antagonisms with other Palestinian factions, appeared to have driven off any potential coalition partners, although the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was said to be deliberating about whether to accept some junior Cabinet posts.

Haniyeh, speaking to reporters in Gaza, sought to calm fears that Israel and the United States would intensify efforts to isolate the Palestinian government.

"We have no doubt of success in the Cabinet's responsibilities for running Palestinian affairs," he said. "Those Palestinians who granted us their trust will never starve or be deprived."

Most Western countries have threatened to cut off or severely curtail aid to a Hamas-dominated Palestinian government. Hamas, which Israel, the United States and the European Union consider a terrorist organization, carried out dozens of suicide attacks during the five-year Palestinian uprising, or intifada, but has largely adhered to a truce over the past year.

The make-up of the Cabinet appeared to dash hopes on the part of Abbas, who was elected a year before the vote that brought Hamas to power and has broad authority of his own, that Hamas might moderate its views sufficiently to avoid an aid and diplomacy boycott.

Abbas must approve the Cabinet lineup before it can be put before parliament. He is expected to try to delay that step until after Israel's parliamentary elections, scheduled for March 28.

Laura King writes for the Los Angeles Times. Special correspondent Fayed abu Shammalah contributed to this article from Gaza City.

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